The Implosion Factor.
For a team no longer in contention, there comes a point in the season when it starts to divide due to a lack of a unifying force. Typically this force is a real chance at a major team victory. When this chance/incentive is longer ahead of the team and the season becomes a wash, the will to play leaves the players.
The outsider might argue that there are contracts to live up to, performance records, and a sense of pride—things that should always demand the will to play. To be clear, I’m not talking about players suddenly not trying to win on field, because it is very rare that a player would ever simply give-up when he’s between the lines. There are far to many reasons for him to ever concede a season and neglect his statistical production. What I’m speaking to here is when a team loses that driving force that pulls them together—that sense of pride in victory as a unit; that sense of building a franchise, that sense of communal purpose. When this is lost, a team has a tendency think more selfishly and less about the team as a united whole.
Major League baseball is a very individualistic sport, especially when the team you belong to is losing. Losing is embarrassing. Losing is hard mentally. Losing makes the player feel as if they have nothing to gain through the vehicle of the team and so they “check out”. Meaning, they no longer care about the wins or loses beyond the pageantry associated with such things. They don’t really care if the Rookies are learning to be champions for next season. They don’t care much about accomplishments outside their own ability to stay afloat for next year. In short, they’re just grinding out the remainder of the season so they can get home to their families and be done with the damn thing.
Some older players, while looking for reasons as to why the team is always failing, will become bitter with the failure. Because they already have lots of service time (meaning they are not wowed by the fact they’re in the Bigs anymore) and they are not playing for a big contract (they’ve already landed a big, guaranteed payday), all they have to look forward too is the experience of a major championship. They’ll look for the weakest link derailing them for that new experience. Sometimes they will look to management, to team deals, or to the division. But, all to often they will look to younger players who don’t have the expereince, but are still very excited to be in the big leagues (because it’s fresh to them) and outwardly they look like they’re reveling in the failure. Of all the the frustrations that could be the cause of the teams loosing, the Rookies are the low hanging fruit because they are close at hand and under the dominion the veteran player’s authority.
The result is often toxic. Older players who’ve checked out and are simply going through the motion have more time to judge the younger players. A separation will form between them. Instead of the older players becoming a unifying leadership force, they will become a polarizing force. They are not enjoying their season anymore and they won’t stand for some green horn coming into the locker room and savoring every loss because it’s a loss in the big leagues.
For the Blue Jays going forward, leadership will be very important. There will need to be an open and positive channel of dialogue between the team’s iconic players—Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Ricky Romero— and it’s younger players. Why these players and not, say, the oldest players like Vizquel or Oliver? Because they are not the building blocks of the team, linked to major production and long term contracts. They are no longer the premier players of the game. In short, they are not the authors of team culture anymore, they are simply the ambassadors of experience. They have a more revered advisory role, but not a authentic culture producing one.
There are several teams feeling the gravity of the end of the season. Some of those teams have felt it for several months now, pulling them down and sucking the spring for their step. Unfortunately the closer the end gets the more intensely it’s felt. Come September, when a load of Rookie auditions arrive and the clubhouse becomes over populated with those happy to be collecting a big pay check, team toxicity rises. Unless the major leaders are in engaged and authoring positive team culture despite not having a positive win/loss column, it will build a negative and perpetuating team culture. Younger players who are not yet comfortable in the Bigs, and do not yet feel like they belong will look to older players for a role model. If they get a bitter one that only thinks about himself, his own numbers, and the team’s weakness, the younger player will perpetuate such an ideology. Furthermore, if a the older players don’t lead, younger players will attempt to do so. Without the perspective and experience of a veteran, his leadership will be contrived, self-serving, and ultimately rejected, further dividing the group.